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PostPosted: Sat Oct 11, 2014 5:49 pm 
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Medico-Legal Matters Blog

This is a blog about various matters that may be medical, legal or a combination of both.

Posted by John Rumbold
Friday, 10 October 2014 at 14:04

The content and value of the right to freedom of speech

The recent furore surrounding "trolling" of the McCanns and the death of a woman from Leicestershire "doorstepped" by Sky News has produced a variety of reactions, some of which support dramatic state intervention to prevent free speech. This is not to defend all comments as a legitimate expression of free speech. Banning speech because it is "offensive" makes the right to free speech an empty one. Why would anyone want to ban speech which wasn't offensive to anyone?

It would be wrong to fetishize free speech to the extent that libellous comments or incitement to violence were protected. However, the thrust of some of the comments from the McCanns have been that their twins will be exposed to these comments if they go on the internet unsupervised (the wisdom of letting any minors on the internet unsupervised is debatable). It is noticeable that many of the reports failed to distinguish sufficiently between Tweets to the McCanns, and Tweets about the McCanns. This is a very important distinction. The McCanns have "no significant social media presence" apparently. Perhaps this lack of presence is a reaction to the widespread criticism of them on social media from some quarters, and I don't think this is necessarily a reason to dismiss the trolling (although certain police forces will advise as a matter of course withdrawing from social media sites if people report trolling). If the McCanns were being targetted in a campaign of harrassment, that is a different matter from comments being made about them. Libel is a civil matter, for good reason. They have already demonstrated that they have the means and will to pursue defamation suits (unlike the vast majority of the population). So the comments of Jim Gamble are quite surprising, given that a former senior police officer might be expected to know the law - or at least have the sense to check the law prior to expressing an opinion.

Many who have been genuine victims of harassment on the internet would see a sharp contrast between their treatment by the police, who in certain areas are frankly dismissive. There is a perception that these issues are only dealt with where the victims are celebrities or notables. This would erode the notion of justice for all, and reek of privilege in the old-fashioned sense of "private law". So Jim Gamble's comment that everyone who had similar experiences to the McCanns just seems to show that he's divorced from reality.

posted by John Rumbold

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All the statements, opinions and comments made on this forum are done on a matter of public interest and under the right of freedom of speech as stated in Article 37 of the Portuguese Constitution, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and UN's Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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